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‘Findings do not come as a surprise’

One in five Melbourne vegetable patches contaminated with lead

Twenty percent of backyard vegetable patches across Melbourne -tested as part of a new study- are contaminated with levels of lead that exceed health guidelines. In Sydney it is even worse; a similar previous study found 40 percent of tested patches with too high levels of lead.

Lead contamination in soil can be absorbed by vegetables grown in it. Children who play in the soil are also at risk. Anyone with a veggie patch in the inner city is now being urged to get their soil tested. The study adds more weight to mounting evidence showing huge amounts of lead in the soil in urban areas. And this is a legacy from decades of adding that toxic metal to paint and petrol.

“These findings do not come as a surprise,” said RMIT Associate Professor Suzie Reichman, who led the study. “Given it’s all in urban Melbourne, and a lot of the sites in central Melbourne are older and used to be industrialised, it does not surprise us that we got this result.” reported how Reichman’s team tested soil from 136 vegetable gardens across Melbourne, and found that 21 percent had soil lead levels that exceed 300 milligrams per kilogram.

Government regulations say soil lead above this level needs “further investigation”. Professor Mark Taylor, the first study’s co-author and Australia's preeminent lead expert, has franker advice: don’t garden in it.

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